Dr Who?

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Dr Who Phone Box

  • Audio of the article “Dr Who?” by Bronwen Stiene

Surely it is about time that new, yes NEW, Reiki books stop calling Usui Mikao, Dr Usui! Call him Mikao Usui, Usui Mikao, Usui Sensei but can we stop calling him Doctor? Please?

It makes the system of Reiki look like some shonky practice with a snake-oil seller as the founder. Using the title ‘Doctor’ for Usui Mikao in society today is misleading for clients and students, giving Reiki a medical air that it does not have.

This is not respectful, nor is it honest. There are legal obligations to using the title ‘Doctor’ and as far as research has shown Usui Mikao does not qualify and we’ve all known this for years. It was probably well intentioned when it was first used many years ago but today it is no longer appropriate. He did not have a Phd nor did he complete a western medical degree!

Why not adopt ‘sensei’ if you wish to show your admiration and respect? Sensei is an honorific title given to a teacher by students out of respect.

While on the subject of new Reiki books; why the Reiki community hasn’t stood up and said enough is enough is beyond us! Reiki is not Tibetan, Indian, Nepalese or Chinese – never was and never will be (unless it changes its name and becomes a new practice) and yet we are still finding new books that are referencing Reiki as coming from these varied oriental backgrounds!

Yes, it’s probably easier for Reiki authors to make use of the Tibetan Buddhist path for example as there is a phenomenal amount of literature dealing with it and it has been very popular in Western culture. In contrast to Tibetan Buddhism there is very little translated into English from Japanese Buddhism to help practitioners understand the huge differences that exist between these two forms of Buddhism. Although Tibetan Buddhism is mighty interesting, it is however largely irrelevant to the Japanese practices. Buddhism travelled from India to Tibet and from India to China on exclusively different journeys.

As a Japanese Tendai Buddhist priest recently put it to us: “Japanese Buddhism is 90% Japanese and 10% Chinese. The Japanese think of Japanese Buddhism as ‘their’ form of Buddhism. I used to speak with some priests who’d forgotten that Buddhism even came from India!”

Historically, it is common knowledge that around 1500 years ago Buddhism came across to Japan from China and Korea (originally from India). Tibet doesn’t even come into the Japanese picture. The Tibetan language itself is unique to Tibet; Chinese kanji is not used in Tibetan.

This is just the Buddhist influence on the system of Reiki that we have looked at here as an example. Usui Mikao would also have been influenced by a number of other elements from his culture including Shintoism, Japanese martial arts and much more.

If the Reiki community is interested in being taken seriously, it really needs to let go of old myths and stop trying on new ones to see if they fit. Unfortunately the zippers broke when trying on these clothes, as what is known as the system of Reiki just cannot be squished into strange fancy dresses.

The system of Reiki is at a critical point of its development in many countries and if we want it to be respected and honoured for the amazing system that it is then we need to pull together and get our facts right and stop drifting off with the next best thing that happens by!

Solution: Here are some of the books and links that you can read through to help you get a better understanding of the system of Reiki through Japanese culture, philosophy and religion.


Monumenta Nipponica

Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Centre for the study of Japanese Religion

Philosophy East and West

Links to Japanese Religious sites

The Institute of Buddhist Studies


Check out this page of our website for a good Further Reading section


Shinto in History, Ways of the Kami
Edited by John Breen 7 Mark Teeuwen

The Catalpa Bow, A study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan
Carmen Blacker

Religions of Japan in Practice
Edioted by George J. Tanabe Jr.

The Japanese
Edwin O. Reischauer

Japanese Culture
Paul Varley

Shugendo, Essays on the Structure of Japanese Folk Religion
Miyatake Hitoshi

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